Printing And Imaging In The Newest Economy


Three MFPs that offer ROI, quality and simplicity


Take a company -- say a real estate title business -- that spends $5,000 a month to overnight documents to clients all over the country. Yes, the clients need the documents quickly. And yes, the postal service, UPS and FedEx have reliable means of tracking. But $5,000 a month? Does everything have to go overnight?
What if that business could scan the title documents into a digital file, e-mail them or FTP them to the client, and then send the paper document by two-day delivery rather than overnight? Bingo: quantifiable savings.

An overnight letter can run $30 to ship overnight from New York to Los Angeles. Two-day delivery is about $13 on the major courier services. Suddenly, that $5,000-per-month cost for overnighting documents drops by almost $3,000 per month. That would easily cover the cost of a workgroup-quality, network-based multifunction device and consumables and still provide a return on investment in about 30 days.

There are a few caveats, however. First, the multifunction printer (MFP) and supporting technology can't eat into that savings with complexity that costs employee productivity. And, second, businesses and employees won't tolerate poor quality. Security and reliability have been "givens" with imaging and printing quality for some time, so that can't be sacrificed, either.

All of that leads to three critical elements of printing and imaging in the current economy: Imaging quality, immediate return on investment and simplicity.

We're disappointed with the lack of standard USB 2.0 support in many of the newer MFPs we've examined lately. Hewlett-Packard and Xerox, two market leaders, have recently shipped important products that lack this support -- a decision that is mind-boggling.

One multifunction unit that provides fine image quality, ability to consolidate devices and USB 2.0 support is Canon's ImageClass 9170c. We liked this MFP a lot, finding that it provided nice performance and quality, and flexibility. It's pricier than the others, and frankly more expensive than we would have liked to see (street ranges between $1,800 and $2,000).

Hardware: Canon ImageClass 9170c

The 9170c is a fine device for small businesses or workgroups, especially those without dedicated IT resources. Some of its functions (like scanning documents to PDF to memory stick) may be more than what most businesses call for, but with street prices in the $2,000 range, that's fine.

Here's what we found the ImageClass 9170c:

The printer is not a speed demon, but it's workmanlike. Its time to first print on a cold start is 27 seconds. In a minute, it printed 17 pages (Canon says the device can reach as much as 22 pages per minute). Monochrome prints were clear. But when printing color, we found colors appeared a little flat—though largely accurate. Color printing reached about the same speed too.

Setup was straightforward and simple: Each of four toner cartridges needed a gentle shaking prior to start-up, but they slid in and out of the console with relative ease. The box is very network-friendly. Finding and displaying the IP address on the 3.5-inch LCD display during the wizard-based setup was a piece of cake. The browser-based administration console isn't as robust as those from other vendors we've seen, but it hits the basics. (We'd like to see vendors make drivers available for download straight from these consoles, but Canon, like most others, isn't there yet.)

The on-board devices we tested all worked fine. The 9170c provides two USB ports to which users can send document scans, in addition to flash card readers.

The bottom line: MFPs are a tough, competitive space with a lot of aggressive companies vying for an increasingly price-and-cost-aware market. Canon starts at a bit of a disadvantage in trying to advance into the IT space from its facilities/copier legacy, even though it's been working hard at it for several years. However, the 9170c could give VARs a nice option to consider, and it's a device that works well enough to recommend.

HP Color LaserJet CM2320nf

With a list price of $699.99, the HP Color LaserJet CM2320nf certainly is less expensive than the Canon ImageClass 9170c.

During testing, performance was hit-or-miss. From a PDF, it printed 3 pages per minute (ppm) from a cold start. From a Microsoft Word document, it printed 9 ppm a minute, cold. After it warmed up for a few minutes, it did increase performance to close to the 21-ppm specification -- for a Word document.

The CM2320nf supports USB connectivity to a desktop PC, although it doesn't provide a USB 2.0 port for input or output. The device is very nice in scanning performance, producing a PDF file of a color, 19-page document in a little over two minutes to a PC across the network. For end users that require good scanning performance, the CM2320nf provides just that, and at a nice price point.

In addition, the device's copying quality and performance are fine, and setup was a breeze: The included disk provided a wizard-based installation that had everything up, connected and functional within a few minutes. Web-based or application-based monitoring of the device and its supplies, from the administrator console, worked like a champ.

Xerox Phaser 6128 MFP

The Phaser 6128 MFP is the least expensive of the units evaluated for this piece, going by list price. Starting at $549, the Xerox Phaser 6128 is built as a desktop MFP, and like the LaserJet CM2320nf, it provides the base functions needed to support a very small workgroup.

Xerox has made the physical setup of the Phaser 6128 MFP a breeze -- and easier than the other two mentioned in this article. It took about 10 minutes out of the box to get up and running. From a network standpoint, Xerox provides the tools to allow VARs or administrators to push drivers for only specific functions to each user of the device. While that provides nice flexibility and control over the device, it take a little longer to support each PC on the network, compared with the HP CM2320nf. However, since it's a device that would only support a small workgroup at most, we question why Xerox can't streamline the PC driver support and provide a better, wizard-based setup.

Copying and scanning performance tests put the Xerox device in the same ballpark as the HP, but just a little bit slower, at around the 12-ppm color or 16-ppm monochrome specifications. The browser-based administrator console was on par with other
devices in its class in terms of functionality and monitoring of consumable levels, passwords and activity.

Software:
We've already reviewed Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional (CRNtech, December 2008), but no conversation about imaging and printing should take place without it. It is simply in a class by itself in its ability to merge documents with multimedia into PDF forms—functionality we believe will be essential moving forward. Sure, at $449 for a single license, it is among the more expensive desktop imaging applications, but it's a caviar price for a caviar product.

Not only does this latest rev of Adobe's document-imaging application provide multimedia support (allowing users to embed audio and video into a PDF file), but in the context of an enterprise's workflow strategy, it can provide enough efficiency gains and consumables cost-cutting to keep the ROI conversation moving forward between VARs and their customers.

While no single solution or set of solutions will yet replace a traditional office with a digital, paperless office (allowing VARs to continue providing higher-margin consumables to customers for the future), Acrobat 9 Professional is a strong starting point for that transition. Combined with servers and PCs with more processing capability than ever (including Intel's Core i7 and Advanced Micro Devices Phenom Black Edition CPUs), Acrobat 9 Professional can drive ROI in added efficiency, paper and ink cost savings, and in other areas, as mentioned earlier, such as copy and courier fees.

At $149 for between one and four seats, Bluebeam PDF Revu is less expensive to acquire than Acrobat 9 Professional does. While it doesn't provide many of the functions, including multimedia support, we liked it specifically for its use in a tablet PC solution.

Bluebeam PDF Revue, from Bluebeam Software in Pasadena, Calif., allows for easy markup and editing of PDFs. Installed on a Fujitsu LifeBook tablet, for example, one can use the application to open a PDF file, do markups of a document with the tablet's stylus, and then share the document across a network or over e-mail. It's also a neat way to sign documents digitally; that makes it more efficient than fax-based document signage, editing or sharing.

HP, Palo Alto, Calif., has been a market-share leader in the printing space seemingly forever. But a continuing key to its strength is the power behind some of its supporting software, like its Universal Print Driver, and, on a network level, its Web Jetadmin lineup for enterprise printer management.

This month, HP will make available Web Jetadmin 10.2, which operates on Microsoft's .Net framework, the latest iteration of its network management software. It's powerful, it's simple to deploy and use, and it works.

In the Test Center, installation of Web Jetadmin 10.2 onto the network took minutes. Within a few more minutes, the software imaging devices on our test network had discovered and enumerated the print devices that were installed on the network (HP and non-HP), and provided a robust management console to keep track of device usage, employee rights, and printing and imaging applications on the enterprise.

Of note for VARs who are moving -- or easing -- into print managed services: Web Jetadmin 10.2 was optimized to make remote monitoring and management, on a device-by-device basis, less complex or time-consuming.

The Web Jetadmin 10.2 console has three primary tabs: for Device Management, for Print Management and for Application Management.
The Bottom Line: A business' imaging, printing and workflow can either be a competitive weapon and differentiator, or it can continue -- as it has -- to eat as much as 6 percent of a company's overall cost in a given year. We believe the sharpness, cost of acquisition and management of MFPs (including all three examined here) provide a more powerful option than ever for VARs seeking to help customers consolidate and cut expenses while improving performance in many cases. As hardware pricing continues to drop while functionality increases, this will become only more evident over time.

The software options available to businesses, too, remain stronger than ever. Not only is desktop and laptop/tablet software more powerful every month, it is easier for VARs to deliver while remaining a key element of the total service and solution.

HP's Web Jetadmin 10.2, in particular, should be singled out for its flexibility in giving VARs options to provide all services at a customer site or begin to provide them remotely.

COMMUNITY:Connect with the Test Center at Community.CRN.com—Channelweb Connect. E-mail the managing editor at emoltzen@everythingchannel.com.